Abandon ship: Senate Democrat calls for delaying ObamaCare's individual mandate as WH announces new delay for exchanges

Two words, my friends: “Bipartisan support.”

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia broke ranks with fellow Democrats and said he’d support a stopgap spending plan that delays the individual mandate in President Barack Obama’s health-care law.

“There’s no way I could not vote for it,” Manchin said at a Bloomberg Government breakfast today. “It’s very reasonable and sensible.”…

Manchin, 66, said he’d be willing to delay the individual mandate as part of the budget negotiations because the Obama administration in July gave businesses an extra year to provide their workers with health insurance.

“Don’t put the mandate on the American public right now,” Manchin said. “Give them at least a year. If you know you couldn’t bring the corporate sector, you gave them a year, don’t you think it’d be fair?”

Two intriguing footnotes. One: News of this broke while The One was busy delivering his umpteen-thousandth speech about how terrific O-Care will be if we just give it a chance. Coincidence, or did Manchin time this for maximum impact? Two: Unlike many other red-state Democrats, he’s not up for reelection next year. He’s safe in West Virginia until 2018. Either he supports delay on the merits (he ran an ad three years ago in which he literally shot a hole through a copy of the bill) or he thinks the political fallout of backing O-Care will be so gruesome that it’ll still be a liability for him in five years. Either way, this is just the sort of political cover that Democrats who are up for reelection in conservative states need to vote with the GOP. Pryor, Landrieu, Begich, Hagan — Republicans could conceivably have 50 votes or more for delay headed into debt-ceiling negotiations. That won’t break a filibuster but it does complicate the White House’s message of blaming everything on those darned wingnuts and their anti-ObamaCare monomania.

But Manchin’s announcement wasn’t the only news breaking during O’s speech:

The Obama administration is delaying another piece of Obamacare – this time postponing online enrollment in some of the small-business exchanges scheduled to open Oct. 1, sources tell POLITICO.

Small businesses looking to enroll in coverage on so-called SHOP exchanges run by the federal government will be able to submit a paper application on Oct. 1 – they just won’t be able to enroll online…

The SHOP applications represent the latest glitch in the federal exchange infrastructure. Federal health officials recently said they won’t be able to transfer Medicaid applications to states right away, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week.

So there’s the answer to the question I asked last night. The D.C. exchange was promoted by the media as ahead of the curve relative to other exchanges, and yet they still couldn’t get the subsidies calculations right in time for launch day — with three years to prepare. If that’s the shape that a comparatively well-run exchange was in, when would the more poorly-run exchanges start postponing elements of the rollout? Well, here you go. It took less than 24 hours.

Exit question: At this point, would the White House rather meet Boehner’s demand for a one-year delay of all of ObamaCare or Manchin’s demand for a one-year delay of the individual mandate specifically? I think there’s more political risk to the latter than the former, no? If you delay the whole law, you buy yourself time to work out all the bugs before trying again at a rollout next year. It’ll be hugely embarrassing to the White House to postpone things when they’re this close to launch, and there are doubtless lots of congressional Democrats who don’t want O-Care becoming a key issue right before the midterms, but that’s survivable. What’s potentially not survivable is rolling out the exchanges now minus the individual mandate, which means lots of young adults will face no legal compulsion to buy in. If (as Bill Clinton noted two days ago) healthy uninsured people refuse to fork over their money, then insurers suddenly don’t have a pool of revenue to cover all the people with preexisting conditions who are signing up, and then the whole scheme starts to collapse. There’ll be no delays after that; if insurers start crumbling, we’ll be in post-ObamaCare mode as a country. Better, then, to hit pause on the whole thing if you’re O to prevent that sort of collapse, right?